Old ideas painted new

Over the past few years I’ve been following the automotive industry, especially in relation to electric cars and efficiency improvements.  I have had a long time love of cars from an aesthetic/design perspective, probably rooted in the many drawings and lego vehicles I made when I was a kid.

Perhaps it was watching Who Killed the Electric Car, the talk of biofuels (and their positive and negative aspects) and hydrogen (with many questions relating to hype vs. reality) – I’m not sure which, but something clicked over the past few years that really opened my eyes to just how little innovation had actually been happening in the space, and I suppose piqued my interest from a sustainability perspective.  I also think that the industry is somewhat of a bellweather for the broader market shift to sustainable technologies.

I was interested to note that this week Lotus Engineering have unveiled a concept car design, based on the Toyota Venza, that achieved a 30% weight reduction – a critical component of efficiency – over the Toyota design.

2020 Toyota Venza concept by Lotus Engineering

GoAuto.com.au reports:

With a combination of lightweight materials and efficient design, Lotus claims to have achieved a 38 per cent reduction in vehicle mass, excluding the powertrain, for only a three per cent increase in component costs.

In other words, the Venza’s 1290kg mass was reduced to just 800kg on the Lotus-engineered 2020 concept.

… The company’s findings were released this week by the International Council on Clean Transportation and show how significant reductions in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions can be achieved for a regular mass-market vehicle through means other than the powertrain.

(egmCarTech has published an article of their own exploring the concept with further pictures.)

Over the past few weeks I’ve been reading the excellent book Natural Capitalism by Paul Hawkins and Amory and L. Hunter Lovins.  In the chapter entitled Reinventing the Wheels the authors outline how lighter materials, better aerodynamics and alternative drive-trains (hybrid-electric) can radically improve the efficiency of cars.  They call this concept the “Hypercar”, and note:

Detroit has long focused on improving the efficiency of the drive-line – the fraction of the fuel’s energy that’s converted by the engine into torque and then transmitted by the drivetrain to the wheels.  But there is an even better approach.  The Hypercar concept attacks the problem from the other end, by reducing the amount of power that is needed at the wheels in the first place.

They go on to outline how efficient use of more expensive but lighter, stronger and more adaptable materials can reduce weight and manufacturing complexity with only mild increases in costs while at the same time reducing the resource intensity (how many resources are required in energy, labour and natural resources) of the car.  Lotus’s concept seems to be taking this approach directly:

Still committed to founder Colin Chapman’s ethos of “performance through light weight”, Lotus Engineering says the 2020 vehicle architecture uses a mix of stronger and lighter weight materials, a high degree of component integration and advanced joining and assembly techniques.

Whereas the benchmark Venza’s body-in-white contained more than 400 parts, the 2020 model reduced that number to 211.

Body materials in the Venza were 100 per cent steel, while the 2020 concept uses 37 per cent aluminium, 30 per cent magnesium, 21 per cent composites and seven per cent high-strength steel – which Lotus says reduces the structure mass by 42 per cent, from 382kg to 221kg.

This is great news, and fantastic that Lotus is taking the initiative.  It’s noteworthy, I think, that Lotus are heavily involved in Tesla Motors‘ development.  However, I can’t help but have a twinge of disappointment that it’s taken over 10 years since Natural Capitalism was written (it was first published in 1999) for these techniques to be seriously considered, for a 2017 horizon.

Perhaps the technology and costs are only just starting to catch up to the vision, but I suspect it has more to do with the recent spur of activity in the automotive industry around electric vehicles that have resulted in this approach being applied.

Hopefully more of the ideas in the book start to come to fruition in the same way soon…

Novation 25SL – first impressions

While in Hong Kong on my recent holiday (I hope to have some photos and thoughts up on Flickr soonish) I picked up a Novation 25SL mk II. I wanted something a bit smaller for live performance (the previous 49 note keyboard took up a lot of space on stage) that didn’t lack the various faders, controls and triggers of the M-Audio Axiom 49 that I’ve been using for some time.

Over the jump is my first impressions of the Novation, specifically as used with Ableton Live…

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EP progress/budget

In a previous post I outlined the costs of recording an independent EP, and hinted that with Fuzu‘s second EP we were trying to significantly reduce our costs.

Some friends who read the post found it useful, and I’ve also participated in some further discussions on a related post over at new music strategies.

As we’ve just completed mixing and mastering (i.e. we’re close to finished the project) I thought it might be worthwhile looking at the costs so far…

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The great firewall of Australia

As most folks know, I’ve long railed against the Chinese government’s internet censorship regime, commonly referred to as the “Great Firewall of China”.

Seems that the fight is about to take off in earnest to stop Australia from introducing a similar scheme.

The Australian Government has announced that they will introduce filtering for all Australians. Ostensibly this is to stop child pornography, but don’t be fooled – this is not what it’s about. Crikey explains it well:

The Government is fond of yelling kiddie p-rn every time anyone disagrees with their censorship policies, but there’s always been a problem with that line: that content is already illegal, and the AFP works with international agencies to target that content at its source, and to target Australians who view it. The real problem with the censorship regime (besides the economic burdens it will cause) is the extent to which the Government wishes to control what Australians can view online, and its chilling effects on free speech.

What the Government has proposed is a blanket censorship regime with no “official” opt-out (these measures are likely easily circumventable using TOR or similar anonymous proxy services). The censorship extends to anything deemed “illegal”.

Need we be reminded of the sedition laws that are in force currently, a result of the alarmist response of the Howard regime to the London bombings. The following excerpt from Sedition Law in Australia published on the Arts Law website:

The classic definition of sedition is that it is a political crime that punishes certain communications critical of the established order. Sedition crimes have been enshrined in state and territory based Australian laws since before federation and inserted into the Commonwealth Crimes Act in 1920. Under the Commonwealth Act, seditious behaviour that intended to: (i) bring the government into hatred or contempt; (ii) excite disaffection against the government, constitution, UK parliament and Kings Dominions; and (iii) bring about change to those institutions unlawfully, was criminalised.

One reading of this suggests that content on this blog, and many others, could be considered “seditious”. Some may argue that this is absurd and that it would never happen.

Supposedly we’re meant to set aside the fact that the “absurdity” of other anti-terrorism laws being used for political purposes was also claimed. Need we mention Hanneef?

The fact is, there should not even be the possibility of free speech being curtailed in such a fashion.

Even if we concede (which I clearly don’t) that we need a filtering mechanism in place, the best place for this is in the home – in a decentralised manner, and by educating parents on how best to protect their kids. The choice is a parental one, not one for the state.

Update: just came across the No Clean Feed site that provides some actions (and a sample letter) if you oppose this legislation.

How to make your customers feel the fool

In response to my last post, Damian points out via Twitter that, despite all my whining, I still want one (that’s my words, not his).

My response initially was: “yes, but I want to not want one. I really would like to boycott the damn thing in disgust, but noone can match the integration. I have a love/hate relationship with Apple. I’ll be cheering on any credible competitor that can challenge their arrogance.”

This is the thing – Apple’s balls-up makes me feel the fool for wanting their product. I stopped wanting to feel the fool some time ago, and will jump to a credible competitor as soon as one appears.

(I think that’s a testament to Apple’s brand – that I would take such a thing personally. But I digress…

I don’t purchase music from iTunes as there is a credible alternative without the lock-in – they’re called CDs. And I recently switched to use my Sony Ericcson W880i instead of my iPod, only to switch back due to the lack of integration. I want to avoid using the App Store as well due to the lock-in there – I simply don’t want to support it.

The thing is, this isn’t the first time I’ve felt this way – I’ve mentioned my gripes more than a few times on this blog. But every time it happens, I want more and more for a competitor to step up and provide me with a decent alternative. I know I’m not alone.

And that’s something Apple’s current market success with the iPod and iPhone currently masks, and thus Apple’s arrogance continues unabated. This hubris (among other things) is what led them to become a minority player early in the PC industry (a position they’ve yet to escape in the personal computer market). I dearly hope they get slapped upside the head sometime soon by a competitor so they pull their head in and start serving their customers. Not that I’m holding my breath…

Update: Hugh posted the following cartoon on a slightly different front, but appropriate all the same:

The Traumatic Life of Bernard L. Cummings

iRate (or “Apple doesn’t want my money”)

I’m wondering if someone can tell me how I might be able to buy an iPhone in Australia? Seems Apple doesn’t want to sell me one. Telstra are playing extortionist, and Optus are plain out of stock.

Note to Apple Australia: I have $850 to give to you in exchange for the 16GB black iPhone you’re advertising everywhere. If you’d like to collect, feel free to let me know…

The long version

Apple still don’t sell phones outright – only on 24 month plans with Optus and Vodafone. Their advice, roughly, is call Optus, find out where they have stock, then go and get one from whatever store happens to have one on that day. Yeh… whatever. Perhaps Apple should pull down their advertising until they can actually sell the device to interested customers?!

Telstra still have some 16GB stock, but little wonder why – they won’t sell an iPhone outright (despite their claims to the contrary) – certainly not to my interpretation of “outright”. You have to a) be an existing Telstra customer (prepaid is ok, as long as you only want an 8GB unit) and b) have to then (reportedly) pay $150 to unlock the phone to work on other networks.

Optus are clear out of stock. And the city store is no longer taking orders – the exasperated sales staffer informed me that they’d taken 4 calls for very irate customers still waiting for their phones, 3 of which apparently canceling their accounts.

In another city store I asked about the prepaid and they simply responded “we don’t know” – they’ve sent a list of interested people but have no word on when they will receive stock, let alone be able to sell it outright. I’m now on that list that’s seemingly being ignored.

I have to admit, I’m used to Apple not having stock when launching a product. But I have never seen a balls-up like this. I’m sure that Optus aren’t all that impressed with Apple’s supply issues – I wonder if they’ve ever been out of stock of a new Nokia or Sony Ericcson handset? And whoever agreed to the contract terms that limits Apple’s ability to sell the iPhone outright needs to be fired – what a stupid, stupid thing to do.

This is the second attempt to buy an iPhone in the past 3 weeks without success. If Apple thinks this is “creating desire” for the device through scarcity, they are sorely mistaken. It’s just pissing people off – their partners, their customers (existing and potential).

Anyways, I am kinda serious about my initial question. If anyone has some real advice (unlike the kind I got at the Apple store) on how I can pick up a 16GB black iPhone, I’m all ears…

P.S. The reason for my renewed interest is the announcement that Virgin are entering the fray with reasonable data-plans, and 3 have announced their options for those of us that have been able to buy a phone outright (even though they can’t sell the phone, yet), which are even better.

Live IAC driver issues

This is just a little techy post for folks that use Ableton Live on an Intel Mac under Leopard (10.5). Just passing it on for the Google-bots – hopefully it’ll save someone a bit of grief…

I started getting major audio glitches the other night (not the good kind), and I couldn’t quite work out why.

I tracked down the problem to Apple’s IAC midi driver. I use the driver (which you can enable under Applications > Utilities > Audio & Midi Setup) to send midi notes from a track within Live to trigger a scene change.

When I enabled it on my MacBook I started getting major audio glitches in Live (6.0.10). After a bit of troubleshooting I worked out a configuration change in Live that (seems to have) resolved the conflict. A screenshot:

live-iac-config.gif

Geo-sequestration mis-reporting

Environmental Leader highlights a Reuters report on the new geo-sequestration plant opening in Victoria.

The basic principle of the “plant” is to pump 100,000 tonnes of CO2 into the ground (and, I suggest, hope that this won’t cause unforseen and/or longer-term issues). I’m dubious about geo-sequestration generally, but that’s not my real gripe with this report. This is the lead:

A geo-sequestration plant, capable of capturing and compressing 100,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide which is stored two kilometers underground, has opened in Victoria, Australia. Researchers hope the project will help to significantly reduce the emission of greenhouse gases.

(Emphasis mine.) Whilst, technically, it could be argued that sequestration reduces the emission of greenhouse gases – because it’s funneling the emitted CO2 into the ground – it’s not actually reducing the emissions. Just storing them somewhere else for an indefinite period.

But the corker is when the voiceover of the report says:

… it uses experimental low-emission technology that has the potential to reduce the burning of fossil fuels.

This is patently untrue. In fact, a successful trial is likely to lead to a continuation, or even increase, in the burning of fossil fuels, as it delays the need for investment in truly renewable energy and allows the continuation of use of coal fired power stations and the like.

I’m astounded that an agency like Reuters would get this so wrong in their report…

Apple have ripped me off again

Launched a new product and then one month later increased specs and dropped pricing on the related models. It’s a type of bait and switch – people (like me) wait for the announcement, then once we know what the new model(s) are we then make a decision to buy.

A month or two later, they then drop the prices and up the specs on the related models. This is not insignficant – 100’s of dollars off, and significant performance and spec improvements.

If they cared about their customers, they would announce the price and spec changes at the same time as the new models. Of course, they just want to clear their old stock – doesn’t matter. It still sucks to be a fan of Apple.

As a customer, I’ve felt ripped off by Apple’s behaviour on my last three purchases (my Powerbook, my iMac, and now the MacBook). I just wish there was a reasonable alternative… I wonder if this is the sort of thing to report to the ACCC?